Will Rowlands has been named Wales Player of the Year after the “most satisfying” season of his career. The 18-time capped Dragons second row has received the prestigious award from the Welsh Rugby Writers Association.
He follows in the footsteps of some true legends of Welsh rugby in picking up the prize, with previous winners including Gareth Edwards, Barry John, JPR Williams, Mervyn Davies, Phil Bennett, Terry Holmes, Jonathan Davies, Scott Gibbs, Ieuan Evans, Neil Jenkins, Rob Howley, Scott Quinnell, Gareth Thomas, Martyn Williams, Gethin Jenkins, Shane Williams, Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, and Alun Wyn Jones.
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Rowlands figured in all but one of Wales’ matches during the season and was arguably the stand-out player during the Six Nations, leading the way for turnovers and making the second-most carries and tackles. He was also impressed by the Dragons, having joined them from Wasps last summer.
Reacting to receiving his award, the 30-year-old said: “It’s very special. I am really honoured. I have snuck in there among some people of much greater pedigree than myself. I am really touched. It’s great to make a little bit of history for myself. Playing for Wales means the world to me. After some good performances over the last year, this really puts the icing on the cake. It’s awesome.”
He continued: “From a personal point of view, it’s been my most satisfying season of rugby, definitely so with Wales. The personal highlight for me was definitely the Scotland game at home in the Six Nations. It was the first match I had started at the Principality Stadium in the Championship. It was an important win for us and the atmosphere was incredible.”
Born in Hammersmith, Rowlands qualifies for Wales through his father Jeremy, from Pontllanfraith, and was first drafted into the squad by Wayne Pivac ahead of the 2020 Six Nations.
“It seems like a very long two years with a lot going on. It’s been a rollercoaster ride. It’s been amazing, with some highs and lows for sure, but I guess that’s professional rugby,” he said.
“I have always wanted to find a ceiling for myself and I always felt there was more to come. I was enjoying playing rugby for Wasps without playing international stuff. When I got the foot in there, I felt ‘I belong at this level’.
“It obviously takes a bit of time to work your way into the team and start playing how I want to be playing. That’s why this year I’ve felt satisfied because I feel like I’m an important part of the team now. I feel like I’ve played much more how I’m capable of.
“I still think like I can improve. I’m very hungry to do that, but I’m feeling this is where I want to be. I was probably a bit of a late developer. I feel I’ve kept kicking on year after year and long may that continue.”
On the move to the Dragons, he said: “I always said I wanted to come and play regional rugby, not only because of the 60-cap rule but also to put myself in a better position to play for Wales and play as well as Yo puedo. Hopefully that was borne out this season a bit. Being here was definitely helpful for my performances and I am glad I made that choice in my career.”
Next up for Rowlands is Wales’ summer tour of South Africa.
“We’ve got three tough games coming up. That will be a good testing ground for us, trying and doing something no Welsh team has done before, which is win a Test match out there.
“We’ve got three chances and who knows, why not try and win the series? We were competitive against them in the autumn. With South Africa, you know what’s coming and they are amazing at it. But I am relishing the challenge that’s going to come and I think why not? We are pretty excited. I don’t think we’ve got anything to lose.
“The season was slightly clouded by it being a bit up and down in terms of results. Hopefully it will be a much more successful next 12 months for the national side as we build towards the World Cup. It’s a very exciting time ahead.”
Further awards will be presented this week at a special event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Welsh Rugby Writers Association.